Pakistan has high prevalence of malnutrition, especially among children which leads to high infant mortality. Malnutrition is also associated to increased risk of morbidity among children coupled with impaired growth and developmental outcomes.

According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, 4 out of every 10 children aged under 5 are stunted with nearly 5 million children suffering from wasting, or low weight for their height, more than half (53.7%) of the children are anemic and 5.7% are severely anemic. The survey also shows that children under 5 years of age, are malnourished with iron deficiency (49.1%) being among the top deficiencies. In Pakistan, the burden of maternal and child malnutrition attributed by iron deficiency continues to remain unacceptably high.

Iron deficiency poses a severe and alarming child health problem, which could lead to consequences such as impaired growth, frequent illness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a reduced ability to learn. The incidence and scale of this micronutrient deficiency impacts greatly on the quality of life, which not only leads to absence from schools, but also hinders the physical and cognitive development of children causing a hurdle in their progress towards a successful future. Immediate action along with urgent and practical interventions are needed to overcome the crisis.

Iron deficiency not only adversely affects country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but has serious implications for the country’s most important asset – the future human resource. A health economics study done by Aga Khan University estimates that the loss in income due to micronutrient deficiencies is about US$ 3 Billion annually or 1.33% of GDP. Direct medical costs of micronutrient deficiencies (in 6-23 month old children) are estimated at US$ 19 Million.

Many medical conditions occurring among children under five are preventable through sufficient intake of iron. For example, not having substantial iron in diet can lead to lasting delays, cognitive impairments and behavioral under-development. 

Fortified dairy products and nutrition solutions can be an effective vehicle for fortification that can improve nutritional quality of diets and thus support normal healthy growth and development in children.
To address iron deficiency, it is imperative that children be given good sources of iron e.g., organ meat, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli), apples etc. and products fortified with iron which may include infant iron fortified cereals, fortified dairy nutrition solutions (Especially for school going children) and food.

As evidenced by the National Nutrition Survey 2018, Pakistan performs poorly over the nutrition indicators. It is important for the Government to address this crisis on emergency basis and take into consideration starting and scaling food fortification and nutrition support programs especially for infants and children. There is a dire need to introduce public private partnerships at the very local level where parents and specifically mothers are educated about weaning foods, their efficacy and timing. Focusing on health at early development stages of individual can definitely nurture a healthy generation.